By Mayada Farraj
In recent years, the legalization of cannabis has become a controversial social equity issue, yet according to CNBC, marijuana may be one of the few bipartisan issues evolving in the U.S. today.
Researchers have discovered various benefits to the legalization, including social justice, safety, public health, raises in tax revenue, lower criminal justice expenditures and economic stimulation.
Critics argue that marijuana legalization will cause further drug and alcohol abuse, harm public safety and lower teen academic achievement levels.
According to Cannabis Media, 69% of Americans who oppose the legalization of cannabis do so because it will lead people to use more powerful and addictive drugs. Researchers have not supported this assumption as a Gallup survey on Gallup revealed that most Americans favor legalization only for medical benefits.
The social impact of the legalization of marijuana is believed to have benefits for all ages, races, and social classes. Marijuana legalization has been linked to lower rates of opioid-related overdoses, harm, and death, which can improve public health significantly, according to Cannabiz Media. The rates of opioid overdose have reduced by 25% since the legalization of medical marijuana. There have also been reductions in opioid dependence, opioid treatment and abuse-related hospitalizations.
Upon legalization in Colorado, the Drug Policy Alliance found that opioid overdose deaths declined steadily by 0.7 deaths per month. This is after Colorado’s rates of opioid misuse had been skyrocketing.
As more states move to legalize marijuana, the public is worried about drug and crime rates rising. The first two states to legalize marijuana for recreation were Colorado and Washington in Nov. 2012.
By ballot initiative and legislative action, nine additional states legalized marijuana (Alaska, California, Illinois, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan). The most recent states to approve marijuana legalization are New Jersey, South Dakota, Arizona and Montana.
New Jersey’s decision to legalize is expected to positively affect looser penalties for underage possession of marijuana and alcohol. Gov. Phil Murphy has assured the public legalization’s positives will outweigh the negatives. Critics attacked Murphy, insisting he was putting the overall public health at risk to fill the state with tax revenue and erasing penalties for underage possession.
According to ABC News, Murphy explained “The reason I signed these bills, the reason why we’ve been in this fight is for social justice.” The stringent policing of marijuana laws, also referred to as the War on Drugs, resulted in disproportionate consequences for people of color and caused many lengthy imprisonments.
According to the New York Times, Murphy stated, “Maintaining a status quo that allows tens of thousands, disproportionately people of color, to be arrested in New Jersey each year for low-level drug offenses is unjust and indefensible.” Murphy believes the legalization will bring better days to the state, restore families and provide justice for those harmed by the system.